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Kai Ryssdal: There’s a problem out there in television land, and advertisers know it. Media consumers have choices these days. And increasingly, we’re turning away from the TV to get our entertainment. So advertisers are following. Onto computers and iPods, even onto gaming consoles.
Microsoft’s working on an ad solution for its Xbox. It’s called 1 vs. 100. It’s an online version of an old TV game show. And just like on TV there are prizes to be won and commercials to be endured. Sally Herships has more.
SALLY HERSHIPS: Recently I made a confession to David Rogers. He’s an expert on branding at Columbia University.
Herships: I have never bought a television.
DAVID Rogers: Well, there’s going to be more and more people like that. The medium is aging, it’s starting to look like classical music.
Rogers says most people below the age of 50 watch TV shows or movies in unconventional ways. That is, not on the television. Microsoft’s new Xbox game 1 vs. 100 takes advantage of that shift.
Players go online and compete live with other Xbox users. The game is free, but you’ve got to be an Xbox Live Gold member to play. Microsoft charges members roughly $50 a year, and asks for all sorts of information: gender, location and age. Armed with that data, advertisers can target their pitches to Xbox users while they’re playing the game.
Charles Pratt is a video game designer and researcher at NYU’s game center. He says this is all part of Microsoft’s drive to make the Xbox what it calls a full entertainment device, rather then a toy for serious gamers.
CHARLES PRATT: We have games that your whole family can get around the room and play. Don’t you want to play 1 vs. 100 with mom and dad and the kids?
Pratt says Microsoft sees itself at the very heart of the household. Advertisers see a chance to reach exactly who they want when they want. But consumers say they’re trying to escape their exposure to advertising rather then add to it.
Would you sit through commercials to play a game? Pratt just played 1 vs. 100.
Herships: Did you see any commercials?
PRATT: I did. I must have, I did. I don’t remember them, which may speak poorly for the strategy. But I would gladly give 30 seconds to play, to do almost anything for another 10 minutes if I enjoyed it, which I did.
Pratt says Microsoft is off to a good start. One vs. 100 may be free, but Pratt says it’s unlike most video games. It’s cheap to make and it doesn’t have an end.
PRATT: It’s low overhead, it’s simple to run, but you can just play it over and over and over again and keep watching ads, over and over and over again.
And there’s one last advantage to advertising on a gaming console rather than on a television. Unlike TV viewers, video gamers are unlikely to walk away from the action. Branding expert David Rogers again.
ROGERS: You can’t time skip when you’re playing Xbox live. You can’t just skip ahead like you’re on a Tivo and miss this ad presumably.
Rogers says as audiences leave TV the advertising industry is undergoing a shift, from mass audiences to niche. Advertisers, he says, will have to look harder for places to squeeze ads in. This could mean commercials coming soon to a video game near you.
In New York, I’m Sally Herships for Marketplace.
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